Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pilgrimage as formation for chaplaincy

Both my pilgrimage along el camino and my week with the brothers at Taizé are part of an independent guided study subject undertaken towards a coursework masters, with the topic 'Missional Spirituality'.

My particular mission context is the Australian Defence Force and that is why there are two aspects to my study tour. Far more than most westerners, soldiers are communal people; they eat and sleep, party and fight, live and die together; something that so many churches can learn from. Oh, and soldiers no more choose their comrades than Christians choose their brothers and sisters. This is why I'll be spending a week at Taizé with Catholic and Protestant brothers: eating, sleeping, playing and praying with those who share the rhythms that I need to develop for a spirituality of mission.

But soldiers are also nomads. It is because of their love for their country that they do not stay within its borders. They are a people who belong to each other more than they belong to a particular place. Soldiers also know solitude, silence and walking – this is why I'll be hiking 900km of the camino and keeping silence between breakfast and lunch.

So during the study tour I'll be wearing my boots: having something with me – on me – at all times to remind me why I'm walking or staying, why I'm on my own or in the monastic community, and why I'm silent or speaking to strangers.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pay attention

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

– TS Eliot from 'Little Gidding,' Four Quartets  
The idea of a journey of self-discovery is quite laughable in some senses, and quite pitiable in others; if I can't find myself in Brisbane, then why should I have more success in Santiago?

Of course, the issue really isn't about finding in one place what would otherwise be lost elsewhere. The issue, rather, is about being more aware of what one has and who one is – wherever one is located. And as much as the familiarity of commuting dulls the senses, the novelty of travelling sharpens them; more than that, pilgrimage confronts the senses. The pedestrian scale and pace of movement for the pilgrim means there is no escaping the unfamiliarity.

The sun and its passage through the sky, feeling its warmth on my back and the chill of the wind as I walk into it – these are things I noticed on my recent trip to Sydney. And for some time I noticed similar things on my return.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Consider how irregular my blogging is, and you will have some idea of how unsuccesful most of my attempts at daily journalling have been.

My life is highly resistant to attempts to impose routine upon it, but it has been known to happen – in restricted ways, and for limited times – in the past, but it's not something that comes easily. But almost nothing of any value is achieved without difficulty. Walking 900km in a foreign country will not be achieved without difficulty. So, if I can hike, on average 30km a day for 30 days, perhaps then I can also journal about those travels for 30 minutes at the end of each day.

Though a generalisation, my theory is that a person's life is either easy for them to write about, or worth writing about. I'd much rather have the former problem than the latter!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Church Newsletter

This small article was written for my church's newsletter, because – as is clear below – my colleague Simon (the senior pastor) who more often than not writes the 'Pastor's Post,' well and truly has his hands full at the moment.
As if moving across the world wasn't enough, this weekend the Wards move into their third Australian house.
In less than a month, Anita and I head overseas for a holiday. Then after Anita heads home, I stay on to walk 900km across Spain.
Last weekend the church went camping. As well as the necessities – like good coffee – we had some luxuries, but by and large the people who went to Triple C left most of their everyday lives behind.

For God's people in the Old Testament, going to a particular place – usually the temple – gave people a special experience of God's presence, which is why the psalmist says "blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage." As a faithful Jew, Jesus himself also participated in the feasts and festivals: at the camp service, John Armstrong shared with us from John 7 about a time when Jesus addressed those who had also left their everyday lives behind to journey to Jerusalem. Not only that, but Jesus also started his public ministry with an extended time of solitude in the desert, and continued during his ministry to regularly withdraw to a quiet time and place.

Despite the scriptural precedent and Jesus' example it's easy for us to mistakenly think that now there are no special places anymore, there is no need to go anywhere or to get away. In fact, the opposite is true. Certainly it's true that God's dwelling place is no longer (just) in Jerusalem, but – through Jesus – in the lives of his people. And it's also the case that we celebrate Jesus as our passover lamb every time we meet, and not just once a year. It's not that there are no special places or times anymore, but that every place and time is special: "God with us" can be the experience of every person, regardless of history or geography.

So, even though Christians don't need to go to Jerusalem (or any other place) for passover (or any other festival), it's still fitting for us to think of ourselves as a pilgrim people, wherever and whenever we go: that, after all is the point of the great commission in Matthew 28. As for camping, moving house, and trekking – these activities help remind us that God's people are always on the move. 

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Welcome Anita!

This evening, my gorgeous wife Anita set up her own blog! I know I've been spending a lot of time setting up photo uploading, mobile blogging, tweaking my template, and even some time writing posts, but I didn't realise that she had been driven to blog for attention. I'm not sure whether the issue lies with demand that is too great or supply that is too little, but regardless of the problem I think I can guess the solution.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Vitality lies in movement

[God] is a God of the Way. His sanctuary is the Mobile Ark, His house is a tent, His Altar a cairn of rough stones... He leads [the Israelites] out of Egypt... There He gives them their Solemn Feast, the Passover: a feast of roasted lamb and bitter herbs , of bread baked not in an oven but on a hot stone. And he commands them to eat "in haste," with shodden feet and sticks in hand, to remind them, forever that their vitality lies in movement.
– Bruce Chatwin The Songlines (New York, N.Y.: Penguin, 1987) pp 194-195 in Arthur Paul Boers The Way is Made by Walking: a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 2007) 39.